Do you remember Clara Peller angrily asking “Where’s the Beef?” The 81-year-old made her first appearance as a spokesperson for Wendy’s 36 years ago. Peller, as you might recall, was featured with two other ladies in that 1984 spot while being served a huge hamburger bun containing a miniscule hamburger patty. Those three words became a cultural phenomenon.
Peller, of course, is just one of many personalities featured on a series of memorable commercials over the years. Bulova Watch Company is remembered as the subject for the first official TV commercial, which aired on WNBT (now WNBC) in New York during a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies at the old Ebbets Field.
This week, let’s take a walk down TV memory lane for the commercials (listed in no particular order) that are sure to ring a nostalgic bell.
Alka-Seltzer – Plop, Plot, Fizz, Fizz
Paul Margulies, the father of actress Julianna Margulies (ER), helped create the famous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz” ad campaign when he worked as a Madison Avenue ad executive. The jingle was written by Tom Dawes, a former member of music group The Cyrkle, who went on tour with The Beatles after scoring a huge hit with a recording of Paul Simon’s “Red Rubber Ball.”
This first spot features Speedy, a redheaded, baby-faced mascot, singing the tune.
Alka-Seltzer – Spicy Meatball
Although you might think this commercial, created in 1969, was for spaghetti sauce, it actually featured Jack Somack as an actor forced to eat spicy meatballs multiple times, resulting in indigestion and the need for Alka-Seltzer.
Alka-Seltzer – “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing”
This time, in 1972, a middle-aged man named Ralph proclaimed, “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing,” as his sarcastic wife suggests he take two Alka-Seltzer pills.
The Crying Indian – “Keep America Beautiful”
Minus any jingles and any catchphrases, this public service announcement in 1971 was simple: keep America beautiful. Iron Eyes Cody, an actor in Native American garb, is seen in a canoe that becomes increasingly polluted. As he ponders the landscape, a passenger hurls a paper bag out a car window, and the narrator comments: “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don’t. People start pollution; people can stop it.”
The camera zooms in on Iron Eyes Cody’s face to reveal a tear falling slowly down his cheek.
Interesting fact: Iron Eyes Cody’s most famous movie role was as Chief Iron Eyes in 1948 Bob Hope comedy The Paleface.
Underwood Deviled Ham – “Borgasmord”
If you grew up in the 1970s you will remember little Mason Reese for the over 75-commercials he appeared in; from Dunkin’ Donuts and Post Raisin Bran to Ivory Snow and General Mills cereal Betcha Bacon. But it clearly is his “Borgasmord” Underwood Deviled Ham spots he is most known for. Naturally, the word he was going for was “smörgåsbord,” and the result for Mason was the CLIO award for Best Male Performance in a Television commercial.
Interesting fact: Mason Reese shot a pilot for an ABC sitcom called Mason in 1977, which never went to series. And he was known for his ongoing appearances on daytime talker The Mike Douglas Show, which he also co-hosted.
Good & Plenty – Choo-Choo Charlie
Debuting in the early 1950s, licorice candy Good & Plenty was hawked by young animated character named Choo-Choo Charlie, who could run a locomotive by simply by shaking a box of Good & Plenty in a circular motion. This catchy jingle, which was staple on Saturday mornings during the cartoon commercial breaks, morphed into board games and comic books.
Life Cereal – “Mikey Likes It”
When his older brothers are hesitant to try Life cereal, they pass the bowl to their difficult to please four-year-old brother Mikey (John Gilchrist). To their surprise, and delight, he begins to wolf down the breakfast as one brother shrieks…”He likes it.,,hey Mikey.” The ad ran in rotation from 1972 to 1986, which is one of the longest continuously running commercial campaigns that ever aired.
Interesting fact: A series of “Today’s Mikey” ads aired in the mid-1980s, with John Gilchrist reprising the character as a college student.
Wisk Detergent – “Ring Around the Collar”
One of the most recognizable commercial catchphrases in TV commercial history is “ring around the collar,” which began in 1968. In one memorable 30-second spot, a parrot uttered the words to a frazzled housewife as she unsuccessfully tried to scrub and soak them out. The campaign was later criticized for implying that it was the fault of wives that their husbands left home with a dirty collar.
Chicken of the Sea – Catalina the Mermaid
In another catchy tune, advertising mascot Catalina, a blond mermaid, was introduced in the 1950s to hawk the white tuna. The tune: “Ask any mermaid you happen to see, what’s the best tuna? Chicken of the sea.”
Interesting fact: Grace Lee Whitney, who appeared in the early episodes of Star Trek as Captain James T. Kirk’s assistant Janice Rand, is credited as being the original voice of the Chicken of the Sea mermaid.
StarKist Tuna – Charlie the Tuna
Voiced by actor Herschel Bernardi (Arnie), tough tawkin’ animated Charlie believes he’s so hip and cultured that he has “good taste,” and he is thus the perfect tuna for StarKist. But Charlie is always rejected because…“Sorry Charlie, but only the best tasting tuna get to see StarKist.” Some of the commercials ended with Charlie asking the viewers to “Tell ’em, Charlie sent you.”
Interesting fact: April 6 is known as “Sorry Charlie Day,” which recognize that everyone gets rejected sometimes in his or her life.
The Maytag Man – Jesse White
Poor Jesse White…he was “the loneliest guy in town” when he began his long-running stint in 1967 as the Maytag Man. White hawked the Maytag appliance line for more than two decades in 68 commercials as the character.
Gordon Jump, who was featured in 1978-82 sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (and spin-off The New WKRP in Cincinnati) took over as the Maytag repairman in 1989 and remained through 2003. In 2014, actor Colin Ferguson began the new Maytag Man.
Interesting fact: Jesse White’s daughter is Carole Ita White, who appeared as “Big” Rosie Greenbaum on the second season of comedy Laverne & Shirley. Talks of a spin-off series centered on the Rosie character morphed into sitcom Angie, with Donna Pescow as the lead.
Bounty Paper Towels – Nancy Walker
When she was not nudging Valerie Harper as her TV daughter Rhoda in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and spin-off Rhoda, or Rock Hudson in detective drama McMillan & Wife, Nancy Walker was Rosie the waitress, who spoke about the merits of that “quicker picker upper,” Bounty paper towels. She appeared as Rosie in countless commercials from 1970 to 1990.
Interesting fact: Nancy Walker is one of the few actors to headline two different TV sitcoms in the same season. After failing in ABC’s The Nancy Walker Show in the fall of 1976, she immediately returned in Blansky’s Beauties, also on ABC. Although her character in Blanksy’s Beauties, Nancy Blansky, was introduced as Howard Cunningham’s (Tom Bosley) cousin in 1950s set Happy Days, the series was set in the present time of 1977.
Charmin Toilet Paper – Mr. Whipple
As George Whipple, character actor Dick Wilson appeared in over 500 commercials from 1964 to 1985 as the fictional supermarket manager who was constantly scolding customers who “squeeze the Charmin.” According to Charmin makers Procter & Gamble, a 1978 survey revealed that Mr. Whipple was the third best-known American, behind former President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham. I wonder if they squeezed the Charmin?
Interesting fact: Country singer Charlie Walker had a Top 10 hit in 1967 based on the commercial franchise called “Don’t Squeeze My Sharmon.”
Mr. Clean – Meet Mr. Clean
After debuting in 1958, Mr. Clean from Procter & Gamble became the top household cleaner in the United States in just six months. Mr. Clean was first depicted as a cartoon character who looked on as a housewife cleaned her house. He was modeled after an actual U.S. Navy sailor.
Comet – Josephine the Plumber
Played by actress Jane Withers, Josephine the Plumber demonstrated the cleaning power of the Comet cleanser. The veteran TV-ad pitchwoman’s beloved character lasted into the 1970s, and even further in the 1980s when her niece, JoAnn, would show her customers a picture of her Aunt Josephine.
Interesting fact: Flo, the Progressive Insurance TV commercial character played by Stephanie Courtney, which began in 2008, has been referred to as a “post-modern Josephine the Plumber.”
Palmolive – Madge the Manicurist
“Palmolive softens hands while you do dishes” was the words spoken by Jan Miner in the countless commercials for Palmolive dishwashing liquid beginning in 1972. “Madge is as important to me as Ironside might be to Raymond Burr,” Miner once said in an interview. “I don’t want her becoming too nosey or gossipy because it’s wrong for her and that might antagonize some viewers.”
Interesting fact: Jan Miner played Dustin Hoffman’s mother in 1974 theatrical Lenny, which was based on the life of comedian Lenny Bruce.
Dunkin’ Donuts – “Time to Make the Donuts”
In this campaign that aired from 1981 to 1997, Fred the Baker (Michael Vale) was an ordinary “Joe” who got up at the crack of dawn, sluggishly proclaiming it was “Time to make the donuts!” Fred the Baker hawked other products from Dunkin’ Donuts over those 16 years, including coffee, muffins and cereal; all under the same premise that he had to get up early to have all the products freshly made.
Chock full o’Nuts – “That Heavenly Coffee”
If you are of a certain age you will certainly remember the cream cheese sandwich. But equally memorable was that advertising jingle, based on the song “That Heavenly Feeling” sung by cabaret singer Page Morton Black (who was also the wife of Chock full o’Nuts founder William Black). It was heard on the radio and featured on television in the 1950s and 1960s. And one classic version of the commercial featured Page Morton Back as Snow White talking to Pinocchio.
Folgers – Mrs. Olson
For 21 years, Virginia Christine as folksy Mrs. Olson had comforting words and advice for young couples while pouring Folgers Coffee in over 100 commercials. In 1971, Christine’s hometown of Stanton, Iowa, honored her by transforming the city water tower to resemble a giant coffeepot.
Interesting fact: Virginia Christine was married to character actor Fritz Feld for 53 years.
Frosted Flakes – Tony the Tiger
Created in 1951, Tony the Tiger was originally one of four animated critters to sell Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. But he quickly edged out Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu and Elmo the Elephant and progressed from cereal boxes to commercials featuring the animated orange tiger describing Frosted Flakes as “they’re great!”
Tony was also the mascot for other Kellogg’s cereals, including Tony’s Cinnamon Krunchers and Tiger Power.
The Green Giant Vegetables
Remember this? “From the valley of the giant…ho, ho, ho…green giant.” The Green Giant made his first television appearance in 1954 representing the line of frozen and canned vegetables, and became known for his booming “Ho, ho, ho!” In 1972, a young apprentice, the Little Green Sprout, joined him.
Interesting fact: “The Valley of the Jolly Green Giant” refers to the Minnesota River valley around Minnesota city Le Sueur. Today, just before dropping down into the valley heading south on U.S. Route 169 a larger wooden sign of the Jolly Green Giant and the Little Green Sprout is visible with the caption, “Welcome to the Valley.”
Pillsbury Doughboy (aka Poppin’ Fresh)
Poppin’ Fresh, more widely known as the Pillsbury Doughboy, made his debut as the advertising mascot for the Pillsbury Company in 1965. The trademark for the series of spots was a poke at the Doughboy’s stomach, followed by a giggle (or a “tee hee”) in response. In the 1970s, his companion, Poppie Fresh, was introduced along with his son and daughter, Popper and Bun-Bun, his grandparents, Granmommer and Granpopper, and his dog and cat, Flapjack and Biscuit.
This commercial features Maureen McCormick, pre-The Brady Bunch.
Great American Soups from Heinz – “The Big Production” with Ann Miller
Naturally, when you think of ads for soup, you remember the tagline “M’m! M’m! Good!” for Campbell’s. But one particularly memorable commercial for soup in 1970 was musical entertainer and Broadway star Ann Miller tap dancing on top of a giant can of competing Great American Soups from Heinz. The stage was fashioned like something you’d see in an old Busby Berkeley production, and the cost was a reported (and excessive for the time) $154,000.
Interesting fact: In 1938, at the age of 15, Ann Miller was featured in Marx Brothers comedy Room Service. Lucille Ball co-starred. One year earlier, at just 14, she appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and, again, Lucille Ball in drama Stage Door.
Jack in the Box – Rodney Allen Rippy
Unfortunately for young Rodney Allen Rippy, that Jack in the Box Jumbo Jack was just “too big to eat!” But in his five-year-old hands, it sure looked big — and so good, too! In another commercial for the fast food chain, little Rippy is giggling while singing the song “Take Life a Little Easier.” In the wake of the commercial’s popularity, that song was released as a single in the fall of 1973 and Rippy became the youngest person to ever make the Billboard music charts!
Interesting fact: Rodney Allen Rippy made his big screen debut (uncredited, filmed before the Jack in the Box spots) in the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles in 1974. That same year he co-starred on CBS Saturday morning variety show The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine.
Taco Bell Chihuahua
Fast food chain Taco Bell introduced Gidget the chihuahua as its mascot in 1997, with the small dog sometimes depicted as a Mexican revolutionary wearing a beret or as a bandido wearing a sombrero. Though special effects, she would utter the words “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” (Translation: “I want Taco Bell.”) Other catch-phrases by Gidget in the campaign were “Drop the chalupa!” and “Viva Gorditas.” And two spots featured the dog in a crossover with the remake of Godzilla in 1998.
Interesting fact: The spots became so popular that toy figures of the dog were produced.
Frito’s Corn Chips – The Frito Bandito
Airing from 1967 to 1971 and considered controversial at the time, animated The Frito Bandito, voice by Mel Blanc, used an exaggerated Mexican accent similar to another character he’d voiced, Speedy Gonzales, to promote the corn chip. The Frito Bandito spoke broken English and robbed people of their Fritos corn chips, which sparked criticism from the National Mexican-American Anti-Defamation Committee. Ultimately, his hair was combed and his gold tooth and stubble were eliminated.
Interesting fact: In 1971, The Frito Bandito was replaced by the Muncha Bunch, which was a group of cowboys; and W.C. Fritos, a character modeled after comedian W.C. Fields.
Coca Cola – “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)”
In 1971, pop group The Hillside Singers released a successful single, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” that originated as the advertising jingle called “Buy the World a Coke” for Coca-Cola. It was produced by Billy David and portrayed a positive message of hope and love, featuring a multicultural collection of teenagers on top of a hill appearing to sing the song.
The popularity of the jingle led to it being re-recorded in two versions; one by The New Seekers and another by The Hillside Singers” in full-length form (and dropping the references to Coca-Cola).
Coca Cola – “Hey Kid, Catch!”
In 1979, football legend Joe Greene is limping towards the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room when a young boy (Tommy Okon) offers him his bottle of Coke after praising him as “the best ever.” Greene sheepishly accepts it and drinks the entire bottle as the boy slowly walks away. When Greene finishes the Coke he turns back to the boy and says, “Hey, Kid..Catch,” tossing his jersey off his shoulder to the surprised boy who smiles and says “Wow!
The commercial was a part of Coca-Cola’s “Have a Coke and a Smile” ad campaign at the time.
Interesting fact: At least five TV shows to date (Sesame Street, Newhart, Family Guy, Futurama and medical drama House) have parodied this commercial.
Dr. Pepper – “I’m a Pepper”
“I’m a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper”…One look at this 1970s clip featuring actor David Naughton crooning about this soft drink, and you will want to be a “Pepper” too!
Interesting fact: David Naughton headlined a short-lived sitcom on ABC in 1979 called Makin’ It, which was a result of the wild success of theatrical Saturday Night Live. Naughton also sung the theme song, which resulted in a Top 5 hit on the Billboard charts.
Shake ‘N Bake and I Helped Girl
“It’s Shake ‘n Bake, and I helped,” proclaimed that overly enthusiastic little girl after helping good ‘ol Mom or Grandma prepare fried chicken (or pork) using this crumb-style coating from Kraft Foods. The icky-sweet commercials aired from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Interesting fact: One familiar face that popped up in 1981 was Ann B. Davis, who, I presume, found a new meal to prepare for the Bradys!
Wesson Cooking Oil – Florence Henderson
Speaking of the Bradys, we certainly cannot exclude Florence Henderson, who sung for years hawking chicken that “has that certain Wessonality.” Considering Ann B. Davis as Alice did most of the cooking for that brood, what made Florence such an expert on the merits of Wesson Oil anyway?
Chiffon Margarine – “It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature”
Airing from 1971 to 1979, actress Dena Dietrich, dressed in a white gown with a crown of daisies on her head, is perplexed to learn that what she thinks is butter is actually margarine. Dietrich angrily responds “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” and commands nature to attack, such as thunder and lightning or commanding an elephant to charge the camera.
Interesting fact: Dena Dietrich had regularly scheduled roles in five different primetime series: sitcom Adam’s Rib (1973), Karen (1975), The Practice (1976-77) and The Ropers (1979-80); and 2001-02 crime drama Philly.
Blue Bonnet Margarine – “Everything’s Better with Blue Bonnet on It”
This ongoing commercial campaign in the 1970s and 1980s promoted the margarine brand via the tune, “Everything’s Better with Blue Bonnet On It. One spot in particular in 1980 featured Jamie Farr (MASH) and Georgia Engel (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), followed by baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays wearing the traditional blue bonnets while trying to sing the tune.
Polaroid Cameras with James Garner and Mariette Hartley
At the height of his popularity on NBC 1970s detective drama The Rockford Files, James Garner was named the celebrity spokesman for Polaroid cameras. After some single attempts to sell the camera, Polaroid decided Garner was in need of a female companion, and along came Mariette Hartley.
The pair was seen together in numerous activities over the years, including on a sailboat anchored in a marina, at a horse stable, by a car, in a garden, and unwrapping Christmas decorations. And the ongoing short stories would feature the pair discussing the camera’s features and benefits, while Garner would photograph Hartley as they would watch the photographs develop before their eyes.|
Snickers with Betty White and Abe Vigoda
Yes, I was really focusing on the 1950s through the 1990s with this listing. But how could I not include everyone’s favorite, Betty White, and Phil Fish (Barney Miller) himself, Abe Vigoda, in 2010 as Betty as a football player named Mike is tackled to the ground in a game and is offered a Snickers bar to ease the pain. When Abe Vigoda is tacked next, he simply responds…”that hurt.”